September 5, 2017

Clutched: An Essential Lesson from Psyche’s Fourth Labor

Psyche Revived by Eros's Kiss, Antonio Canova, 1777, Louvre Museum
Psyche Revived by Eros’s Kiss, Antonio Canova, 1777, Louvre Museum

My mother-in-law grabbed my wrist with her gnarled hand, the way a drowning person grasps a life preserver.

“I’m scared,” she said. She was lying in her bed. She’d been frantic all day, up last night and all the day before.

“What are you scared of, Virginia?” I asked, never presuming to know what’s on her 101-year-old mind.

“I’m scared of being alone,” she said. She rolled toward me, twisting in her sheets. I straightened her covers and patted her grasping hand.

“You’re never alone, Virginia,” I said. “Someone is always with you.”

“Thank you,” she said in a whisper, her eyes darting around the apartment where she’s lived the last ten years. She had no idea where she was and didn’t seem to recognize me. I stepped back a little to encourage her to release me, but her grip was fueled by adrenaline.

Finally sleeping

“This is your apartment,” I said. “You’re safe here.”

She wanted to pull me under, into her bed, into the undertow of memory loss and a death that doesn’t come. I felt my resistance and immediate guilt for not giving more, even though I’ve watched over her for more than ten years. Then I remembered a lesson from the story of Eros and Psyche.

Sometimes we must save ourselves.

“I’ll see you soon,” I told Virginia. “Crystal is here. You aren’t alone.” Did my words calm her? Even for a few seconds? Her endless need suffocates me, even though I don’t change her Depends.

The day before, her breathing grew slightly labored. Her health aide got scared. Her doctor suggested we take Virginia to the ER for tests. Lots of tests. After seven hours, they sent her home after one dose of a diuretic and no new medicines. The diagnosis? A little fluid in the lungs. Nothing serious. Breathing issue was probably fear.

So her health status remained the same and she still didn’t qualify for Hospice. Her claw-like grip on me and on life wasn’t about to let go.

The Boat of Charon,” Jose Benlliure y Gil, 1919

I thought of desperate hands reaching out of the River Styx in the 2nd Century story of Eros and Psyche. Psyche or Soul had completed three impossible tasks to reunite with her Beloved Eros. In my case, translate Eros as my creative fire. For the Fourth Labor, more impossible than the rest, Psyche’s lover’s mother (wouldn’t you know it?) Aphrodite ordered her to go to the Underworld and return with a Box of Beauty from Persephone, Hade’s Queen.

“Psyche Opening the Box of Beauty,” John William Waterhouse, 1903

As with the other labors, Psyche despaired before finding help. A far-seeing tower told her how to get past the three-headed guard dog Cerberus and the weaving Fates. It told her how to pay Charon for a return trip across the River Styx. There was one more instruction, the one I remembered standing next to Virginia’s bed.

“When you cross the river in Charon’s boat, hands will reach out for you, hands that want you to save them,” the Tower said. “You have your own task to complete. You can’t save them.

I wondered if Psyche questioned this. Aren’t tender-hearted women supposed to help everyone who asks? Aren’t loving women the caregivers who save others while sacrificing themselves?

Psyche crossed the river without latching on to desperate hands. She survived the Underworld and returned to the world of the living. After a few more adventures, the story ends with her marriage and the birth of a girl child named Voluptas, meaning pleasure or delight.

Pleasure? A word I tend to forget.

I’ve been a caregiver for my mother, my husband, and now my mother-in-law for twenty years. I’m tired. Sometimes I must say no when others reach out for support. I’ll continue taking care of Virginia until the end, but I can’t save her. I can’t save anyone.

I’m not applying for sainthood. I’m drowning.

“You’re OK, Virginia,” I said. “Thank you Crystal.” Then I pulled my arm away and walked out the door. I didn’t call the next day to find out how she was, but I knew that no news from her aides meant she was OK. While we waited for the next catastrophe, she settled back into sleeping most of the day and eating enough to maintain weight. Her breathing and her heart were fine.

Meanwhile, I wonder how I can learn something about Delight.


Writing this made me face my exhaustion. I hope my honesty doesn’t upset you as much as it upsets me. Have you had a similar experience? Could you pull back when you had to? Virginia and I have a long difficult history, none of which she remembers. I visit her twice a week, do the shopping, take care of doctors, finances, decision making, and health aides. She’s surrounded by attentive 24-hour helpers. I need to look for Delight by writing, reading, being with friends, and enjoying Nature.

For another post about my long relationship with Virginia, see To Forget and To Remember. A recent post, I Will Help You: Palliative Care Support Before Hospice, discusses why Virginia doesn’t qualify for Hospice, although we have Palliative Care support. This week, a Palliative Care nurse gave us helpful ideas for handling anxiety-induced shortness of breath and avoiding hospitals.


  1. September 17, 2017 at 9:41 pm



    thought-provoking and beautifully written, as usual. Thank you, dear friend, Gita

    1. September 18, 2017 at 10:10 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, dear Gita. I needed to find Delight and life offered a plan. Protect Monarch caterpillars, feed them, watch over them, watch them fly.

  2. September 13, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Deborah Gregory


    Dear Elaine! What JOY to read your whole-hearted words again! Thank you so much for sharing your innermost truth and helping us to remember, through the deep wisdom of the mythological story of Psyche that we too must learn to save ourselves. The image you paint in words of those hands reaching up from the River Styx are dramatic yet so relevant for many today! Yay! I have finally picked up my pen and have started writing again.

    Although upsetting to read about Virginia’s claw-like grip on you my dear friend, alongside the sheer exhaustion (on every level, mind, body, spirit and soul I suspect!) that you’re suffering, please know that your honest and insightful prose helps me, and many others, to shape and share our own words and wounds. I’ve written more about internal and external “wounds” in today’s post, as I continue with my animus diet which I started 18 months ago.

    Twenty years of caring is a long time, the same number of years I’ve been working as a psychotherapist. While my clients are not family members, compassion fatigue hits many of my colleagues in varying degrees. For at certain times, I too have longed to walk away from deeply caring for others, yet by learning to pull back when facing potential burnout (I’m still not very good at this!) and focus on saving myself somehow I regenerate.

    I hope the day finds you and Willow well, and in good spirits. Lastly, it’s so wonderful to read through others’ comments and your rich replies. Huge congratulations once again on winning the Jungian writing competition with your amazing essay. Oh, I feel a re-reading of Psyche coming on! Thank you so much for the nudge. Much love and light always, Deborah.

    1. September 14, 2017 at 10:29 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Deborah, it’s wonderful to hear from you. I’ve missed your posts and your comments. I haven’t read the Animus Diet piece you sent out yesterday. I’ve been busy playing with caterpillars–15 Monarchs in pupae or caterpillar stage and 1 Black Swallowtail caterpillar. I’m raising and feeding them inside where they’re protected from predators and will release them when they have wings to fly. Yesterday, I helping my butterfly mentor release 5 butterflies so I learned how to do that. Three headed south and two landed on the closest nectar plants–goldenrod and asters. I also began a new series of writing classes last night, another pleasure. To be with other writers and to share words and feedback with them. I’m taking my need for Delight seriously and making it a priority.

      Virginia’s situation is difficult, but I don’t have to go down with the ship. She’s getting the best of care. I know therapists deal with compassion fatigue all the time. My dream therapist takes plenty of time to visit the ocean and do other nourishing things.

      Eros and Psyche was the 1st ancient story I studied deeply. In weekly meetings, our woman’s mythology class focused on this story for 2 1/2 years. We explored every detail and read many sources. We created a play and enacted the Four Labors in a workshop or two for others. Until then, even though I’d worked with a few goddess myths with Marion Woodman, I didn’t know there could be so many soul lessons hidden in the detailed symbols and images of one story.

      Looking forward to reading about you today. Returning love and light across the ocean to you.

  3. September 13, 2017 at 12:22 am



    I can’t imagine how exhausting being a caretaker for so long must be. As my parents age, one of my two sisters is the one who is helping them go to appointments and grocery shop. She helps my mom organize her medication too, but I’m not sure how things will go when their health further declines, and they don’t like it brought up at all.

    1. September 14, 2017 at 9:53 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your comment, Jeri. I can’t imagine going through what you’re going through. Being a caregiver is easier. I’m grateful your sister is helping your parents so you don’t have that on your plate. It’s hard when the older ones won’t talk about how to handle the inevitable. I drive my sons a little crazy making sure they know just what I want and they agree with each other. Still there are no guarantees. My mother-in-law has all the paperwork in place and I know what she wants, but her body has its own long and exhausting path to follow.

  4. September 12, 2017 at 1:27 pm

    Kim Kluxen Meredith


    Caring, kind Elaine… My six weeks of summer at the beach with Delight nourished and replenished my soul. Now as I unpack my memories with the Daily Shell: Ocean Whispers, I can extend the season even longer. Now as the earth spirals down to December 21st, I fight the increasing darkness with selfish moments of excercise with my peers, family moments, and writing. I hold at bay requests for help and parcel out my aid sparingly without looking back. I have given all once, to the end. It exposed my dark side. I know how to head towards the light now like a moth and keep a lightness in my wings. But darkness sometimes trips me up.
    My best to you friend.

    1. September 12, 2017 at 9:46 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      Kim, you’ve developed powerful skills. You’re also a model for saying yes to summer Delight. I needed to face my feelings and act on them. Delegate more to health aides, take more breaks, keep more energy for myself, and find a better balance between involvement and detachment. I needed to kindle the Light in a necessarily dark situation. I’m figuring out how to do that. Grateful for butterfly caterpillars at the moment and September color. I send you the joy of a shimmering red maple leaf.

  5. September 12, 2017 at 12:00 am

    Sarah Ragsdale


    I can’t think of anything kinder than to have someone holding your mother-in-law’s hand and breathing with her. She is such a fortunate woman and I hope you can focus on allowing that to alleviate any guilt over not doing more.

    It’s so sad when we reach our later years drained from over-giving. Yes to Delight (of the light) and connecting with the process of transforming into a butterfly!

    I think your kind letting go will assist her in the inevitability that this is the way of life, to let go as gracefully as we can. In fact, I was thinking today of all the beautiful fall colors soon to come and how they are truly nature’s expression of just how beautiful death is. And yet our minds are so resistant.

    Yet I do think we are are in the right track, perhaps becoming more mindful of the wisdom of the Tao, that death is just another phase of life and something that must happen, and we all must (learn to) accept.

    1. September 12, 2017 at 9:53 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your reflections and reassurance, Sarah. I have that same response to fall colors which are beginning here now. Each red leaf on the forest floor speaks of the joy of letting go. I feel more weary than guilty in my relationship to my mother-in-law. I’m grateful for the team of home health aides who take care of more and more of her needs, but there is plenty I have to take care of along with supervising the whole situation. I’m OK as long as I have time to walk, write, raise butterflies, and share time with people I love. My Monarch caterpillar project brings joy. It’s another kind of caregiving, but in return, I watch them become butterflies. Three in pupa stage now and 12 milkweed munchers who will be pupae in a few days. Their buddies outside are beginning to hatch and fly, too. Everyday Miracles.

  6. September 10, 2017 at 8:32 pm



    Elaine, did you know morphine helps with breathing?

    1. September 11, 2017 at 8:33 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I do know, Sheila. Morphine helped my husband die peacefully and consciously as his lungs filled. I’ve also been with others at their deaths and have seen how morphine can ease breath. My mother-in-law isn’t actively dying, so we aren’t using morphine now. After her experience in the ER, I asked the Palliative Care Nurse to come in for another discussion with the head aide. We created a plan to help my mother-in-law stay out of the ER and hospital. When she has breathing problems (it hasn’t happened again), the aide will give her a dose of Lorazepam which we use occasionally when she gets frightened and can’t sleep. Then, the aide is instructed to sit with her, hold her hand, and breathe with her. I reminded the aide that her fear is easily picked by my mother-in-law, so they both need to breathe. We’re also getting a Visiting Nurse on board so the aides have someone to call besides the ER, someone who knows that she is a palliative care patient and should be helped with that in mind. Thank you for taking time to comment to make sure I wasn’t skipping something important.

  7. September 10, 2017 at 1:11 pm

    Susan Ball


    I am at a major crossroads in my life’s journey. Divorced my husband of 30 years and moved back to my home-town, a small village. House-sitting in a hospice until they re-open. Have to find another place to live within the month, because I realize that I cannot stay on as a care-giver after all. My sister who is ill and whose deceased spouse left her with nothing wants me to move in with her. I love her, but haven’t seen her in decades. It would make sense to share the rent and take care of family, but it would mean loss of my freedom. Maybe I could save her and also myself, but my soul yearns to be free. Any comments would be appreciated.

    1. September 11, 2017 at 8:19 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Susan, you’re at a crossroads for sure. I don’t know what you should do, but I know that when I don’t listen to my Soul’s call, I pay a price. If we were together (remembering I’m not a therapist), I’d ask if the relationship with your sister could be mutually supportive or is it only helpful to her. I’d ask about your feelings and what your gut tells you. Are you dreaming? Maybe you have someone you trust or a counselor you could discuss this with. It always helps me to talk things over. It’s such an important life decision, although maybe there are short-term solutions that allow you to shift when you find a bigger solution. You are the only one who can discover the answer.

      A quote that helps me: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” ―Rainer Maria Rilke

  8. September 9, 2017 at 4:05 pm



    I’ve been there too, Elaine, when my mother was living with me. It is suffocating and we forget about self-care and delight, which seems to be an impossible thing to find. I’ve learned a lot since then but still struggle when others ask me for more than I can give them. Being the sweet, caring, giving person that saves others is a death sentence if we let it take over our lives.

    1. September 10, 2017 at 9:34 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      I agree, Joan. Thank you for supporting a position that’s hard to hold. It was good to step back, take a week off, and do a few things to bring joy to my life. Writers, like caregivers, can be guilt-trippers if they aren’t putting more words on the page, but instead of writing more, I collected 16 Monarch caterpillars in my field and began raising them inside. Milk-weed munching caterpillars become pupae become butterflies. Butterflies are the symbol of Soul in many stories and traditions. Psyche is often drawn with butterfly wings. Two pupae now and more caterpillars preparing for that stage, so butterflies coming soon to be released for fall migration.

  9. September 9, 2017 at 2:01 am

    Pramila Davidson


    What a caring and loving soul you are! People like you light up the world.The great Vietnamese monk Thich Naht Hahn says repeatedly: Look after yourself and nurture yourself first. Take care of yourself first
    So you’re doing something that was long overdue.
    Eros had told Psyche that she must never see his face. If she did he would leave her.He was afraid of Venus. But she took a candle and looked at him while he slept. So, since Eros is your creative energy, perhaps this aspect could be looked at?

    1. September 9, 2017 at 11:32 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Pramila. I also have an edgy and difficult side–like we all do. I have been a little saintly toward my mother-in-law. Somehow I couldn’t desert her after my husband died because she had no one else and because I knew she was crushed. I was also had a lifetime of anger for her and knew I needed to resolve that within myself. I was tempted to walk away many times and I had to get tough about insisting she have paid help. I love Thich Naht Hahn and often use a piece he wrote about his mother in bereavement groups.

      In the early 1990’s, I spent 2 1/2 years studying Eros and Psyche in a women’s mythology class. I also led a few Jungian workshops on the Four Labors. (Our class still meets and studies mythology. Right now we’re working on the Hindu goddess Parvati, but Eros and Psyche was the first thing we did as a group.) Yes, Psyche didn’t have permission to look at Eros in the light of consciousness or open the Box of Beauty either. She even dropped hot wax on him when sneaking a look–and got caught. Her journey was one of great risk from beginning to end, including surrendering to a Monster Bridegroom (who turned out to be her Beloved Eros). You make me remember that creative work has to have an element of breaking the rules, taking risks, daring exposure, and enduring hardship. That seems to be part of the journey, at least for me. I’ll keep thinking about it, so thanks for mentioning that aspect of the myth.

  10. September 8, 2017 at 6:22 pm

    Robin Botie


    Yow, Elaine. It must be so hard. I hope you find your way to taking time for yourself more often. Twenty years of care-giving – yikes. I had only three with my daughter. Not enough time, but enough to remember fleeing to the outdoors for a half hour every day when the weather was nice. And I felt guilty about it but knew it was important for my sanity and stay-power. Thanks for this.

    1. September 9, 2017 at 11:20 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Robin. When these feelings arrived and I heard those inner voices, I told the aides I needed a week off and to only call in a crisis. They didn’t call. I went back to the usual routine yesterday. She was sleeping when I arrived at 11 am and sleeping still at 3 pm. That’s what she does now. I also fled to the outdoors when Vic was hospitalized and became well acquainted with Mt. Hope cemetery walks. Yes to our sanity. Virginia is still a teacher, especially the importance of expressing gratitude for those who help us. She didn’t do that until recently. It’s late coming after years of taking her rage and resentment, but still appreciated.

  11. September 8, 2017 at 5:24 pm



    Thank you for your honesty. You are definitely not alone. My mom is only 71 but after a series of strokes and bad falls she and her partner are completely dependent on me. I am utterly exhausted. She’s like a child dependent on her mother. Despite the loss of her parents and all her siblings she simply will not let go. Her rationale is she doesn’t want to leave me alone but I am alone because she is sucking the life out of me. When I think of her I think of Demeter and Persephone but I will read about Psyche. I’m thinking of framing the quote about not saving everyone. Only those of us who are caregivers can understand the exhaustion, irritation, sadness. Bless you.

    1. September 9, 2017 at 11:11 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thanks for your comment and sharing your story, TB. So many of us are in these shoes. My mother-in-law fought me every step of the way. I learned to insist on things like health aides or threaten that I wouldn’t help her at all. She’s been a test. The story of Demeter and Persephone is relevant but focuses more on a mother mourning for the daughter. If you look at my blog page and put Persephone in the search box, you’ll come up with quite a few posts about Persephone and also Demeter. Eros and Psyche focuses on Soul’s journey to unite with Love. All the difficult tasks are demanded by Aphrodite, Eros’s mother. The Fourth and last involves a trip to the world of Persephone, so that brings us back to the myth you know better.

      I hope you get a break or find a way to insist on a break. There were days when my mother-in-law called me 20 times (not exaggerating). I stopped picking up the phone. We can’t help when we’re drained dry–or at least I can’t. The one who needs help and care can support the caregiver with gratitude and love, but we can’t force that to happen. Wishing you and your mom well.

  12. September 7, 2017 at 6:07 pm

    Carol A Rodi


    I so identify with this post in so many ways. I understand the care giving of everyone by ourselves and the total depletion that comes with it over time. I also was immediately thought of Mary Oliver’s words from her poem , The Journey as I read your words. I turn to Mary Oliver frequently because her poetry sometimes can give words to my thoughts and feeling when I can not.

    The Journey
    The Journey
    One day you finally knew
    what you had to do, and began,
    though the voices around you
    kept shouting
    their bad advice – – –
    though the whole house
    began to tremble
    and you felt the old tug
    at your ankles.
    ‘Mend my life!’
    each voice cried.
    But you didn’t stop.

    You knew what you had to do,
    though the wind pried
    with its stiff fingers
    at the very foundations – – –
    though their melancholy
    was terrible.It was already late
    enough, and a wild night,
    and the road full of fallen
    branches and stones.

    But little by little,
    as you left their voices behind,
    the stars began to burn
    through the sheets of clouds,
    and there was a new voice,
    which you slowly
    recognized as your own,
    that kept you company
    as you strode deeper and deeper
    into the world,
    determined to do
    the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
    the only life you could save.

    – Mary Oliver

    1. September 8, 2017 at 10:22 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Carol. I love this poem and return to it myself. Thanks for sharing it and remind me. I didn’t have to do anything drastic to give myself a little space. I told the main health aide that I would take a little time off and only call or text me if necessary. (They can call palliative care nurse and doctor’s office, too, and I hope by next week we’ll have a visiting nurse in place.) I’m returning to my jobs with her today. Aides did fine without me, so I should do that more often during the times when there is no crisis.

  13. September 7, 2017 at 10:23 am

    susan scott


    so vital to say no sometimes Elaine and well done on doing so. Your recollection of Psyche saying no to the hands that reached out to her to save them is so apt. We cannot save anyone else – we have a duty or whatever the right word is, to save ourselves. I guess I extend a helping hand when I can – even if it takes me out of my comfort zone. There are times when saying ‘no’ is hard (self-inflicted guilt trip), but golly I feel better when I do say no – even without giving explanations. We can do so much and we must know when no more –

    Meantime, may Delight be a continuing companion to you and that you refresh yourself on an ongoing basis! Thank you for this post. Being reminded of Psyche’s journey to the underworld is timeous for me.

    1. September 7, 2017 at 11:18 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Susan, I love the ancient stories I’ve studied the last 25+ years and how the psychological and spiritual lessons pop up as images when I need them. I’m not afraid to step outside my comfort zone, but there comes a point when I have to grab a boat and paddle away for a time. Yes, a self-inflicted never-enough guilt trip that’s unwarranted since I’ve stuck by her when no sane person would. Yes to Delight as my Monarch caterpillars grow, munching milkweed night and day.

      I studied Eros and Psyche deeply, beginning around 1990 with James Hillman’s essay “On Psychological Creativity” in The Myth of Analysis, in a still-going mythology class. We spent two years with the details of Psyche’s journey, especially the Four Labors, so they’re embedded in me. We used many other texts, including the original from Apuleius and, after our work, I led a few Jung workshops about the Four Labors. They’re embedded in my bones.

  14. September 7, 2017 at 8:47 am

    Karin Sieger


    Thank you for sharing this, Elaine. I am deeply touched and sending you love. Karin

    1. September 7, 2017 at 11:07 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Karin. I wrote in response to another comment that I took a week off and let the health aides take care of everything. It helped me figure out what I can and can’t do. I’ll see her tomorrow, do the shopping, problem solve and pay health aides, and be back in the saddle again. I’m ready, but I have to be careful about sinking my own ship.

  15. September 6, 2017 at 11:40 pm



    It’s difficult Elaine. You have nothing to feel bad about. Sometimes we do have to save ourselves. I went through that with my own mother before I had to abandon her finally to save my own self and sanity.:)

    1. September 7, 2017 at 11:05 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Yes, it’s difficult, Debby. I’m grateful for those health aides, because I could arrange to not tend my mother-in-law for a week and give myself a break. I was always available to everyone during my break if there was another crisis, but there wasn’t. I’m back at the helm tomorrow with a sense that I can keep going with this. There were snafus in getting a Visiting Nurse in place, and I think that’s sorted out now. There are always snafus… You understand because of the beyond difficult relationship you had with your mother. It gives me a little more space that Virginia is not my biological mother and didn’t treat me with respect until she desperately needed me. Forgiveness doesn’t mean I have to sacrifice my health for her when I’m depleted. Another lesson learned.

      1. September 19, 2017 at 9:45 pm



        So true Elaine, you should never have to sacrifice your health. It was my own health I was saving by leaving my mother, so I do know what you’re enduring. Namaste my friend. 🙂

        1. September 20, 2017 at 8:14 am

          Elaine Mansfield


          We’re doing better, Debby. I realized I needed to take a step back and the palliative care nurse gave the health aides tips for what they might do instead of an emergency room. Things have calmed down for the moment.

  16. September 6, 2017 at 5:08 pm



    Dear Elaine, I don’t usually feel I have anything to add after reading the wonderful responses your writing evokes. All I could do is echo them. But this one touches a most tender spot for me. I’ve spent 45 years of my life actively bringing up my children and grandchildren. How could it be possible, I wondered, if I am physically, mentally, financially able, not to take care of them? Add in parents during their waning years. What I have always said, to people who’ve asked me how I’ve done it is, I’m not sure I’m grateful I can. Last month my last grandchild was reunited with his mother. I have sworn an oath to be responsible only to myself for the next year. Maybe longer. As a caregiver (really starting as a child with my parents’ psychic/emotional needs) I not only gave my resources but almost my very being. I have a self to reacquaint myself with and learn to care for, as well as Delight (so glad to read this story!), happiness and simple pleasure in being in a world that is, for all its troubles, so beautiful. Blessings for loving, in real, practical ways, your difficult Virginia. Your ongoing sharing of your story of the two of you helps me make more sense and wholeness of mine.

    1. September 7, 2017 at 10:58 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you for your comment, Holly. I love hearing from you. My dad was sick from the time I was two until he died when I was 14. By the time I was 11, I was trained as a caregiver. Then, until around 1995, even as I was raising my two sons, I didn’t think of myself as a caregiver–although I was. The kids thrived (most of the time), my husband was an engaged and loving parent and partner, and I wasn’t drained by the experience of mothering. In 1995, it was obvious my mom was developing Alzheimer’s in a pattern similar to my grandma who had died by then.

      It’s heartbreaking to hear about your sacrifices to care for others well-being. It sounds like you’ve done so much good heart work for others, but there is only so much time and energy in the day which quickly becomes the year. I’m grateful you see where you’ve been and can take time to find your own Delight. Yes, for all the troubles, catastrophes, and anguish of this world, there is also much beauty and kindness. Let’s keep looking for it.

  17. September 6, 2017 at 1:22 pm



    So glad you have your writing, Elaine, to share these struggles. I can’t imagine the strength you’ve had to muster for these years of caregiving. I do hope you can find other ways to restore yourself, but meanwhile the writing is there. Congratulations on your new book Overwhelmed Writer Rescue sounds helpful and just what I need. Looking forward to winning or buying a copy.

    1. September 6, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Elaine Mansfield


      So am I, Colleen. Caregiving sometimes feels endless, but of course everything ends. In this piece, I wrote about a recent moment when I knew it was time to back off after an intense few weeks. On Friday, I’ll return to the old schedule. I have writing, my sons and their partners, dog buddies, a community of friends (and writers), and the visual beauty that surrounds me. Maybe sharing this piece will encourage other caregivers who feel at the end of their rope to take a deserved break. I hope so.

  18. September 6, 2017 at 10:09 am

    Lynne Staley


    What I have learned from being a companion to grievers is that anecdotes help. To hear someone else tell the authentic truth about a personal experience allows the rest of us to touch a place inside that says “I hear you” OR “I’ve been there” Or “NOW, I understand”. The first book I read after a profound loss was In The Unlikely Event of a Water Landing by Christopher Nöel. I couldn’t believe that someone could actually put into words what grief looks/feels/sounds/tastes like … I cannot tell you how your writing does the same for me. Thank you, Elaine.

    1. September 6, 2017 at 11:13 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Lynne. I bow to you and your work. I try to be honest with myself and then in my writing, because that’s where the soul lessons live. When I notice an inner conflict, I look at it and write about it to sort it out. If I view these experiences as heart lessons, I learn from them, see my strengths and limitations, and don’t feel victimized. All I have to do is look at the news or hear stories in bereavement groups to know that I have great fortune. Virginia has great fortune, too, to receive help and care from loving caregivers.

  19. September 6, 2017 at 7:43 am



    I welcome Delight, my sister, into my life.
    Come to us, Delight, and share with us the divine bounty of your voluptuousness!

    1. September 6, 2017 at 11:02 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Pamela. I look for and welcome Delight. At the moment, it comes from Nature with the 16 Monarch caterpillars I collected in my milkweed fields so they can safely make it to butterfly-hood and be released. Only 1-2% make it in the wild, so I’m helping them and they’re helping me. Lots of milkweed munching going on as they change and I watch the magic. Two are getting ready to make a pupae and next comes a butterfly ready to be released, feed on nectar plants in my fields, and join the fall migration soul. Psyche or Soul’s symbol is often a butterfly, so I’m living with that mythological story.

  20. September 6, 2017 at 7:17 am

    Marian Beaman


    No quotes
    No platitudes
    No advice in reply to this exquisitely written outcry

    Well, just one bit in response to your questions: Aren’t tender-hearted women supposed to help everyone who asks? Aren’t loving women the caregivers who save others while sacrificing themselves? The answer is NO!

    I have a close friend with her 100-year-old father living in her home. Like you, she needs a respite.

    Just clutching you in hugs today ((( )))

    1. September 6, 2017 at 10:46 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Marian. I know the answer to those questions and appreciate having it mirrored back to me. When something inside me screams, “No,” I have to listen.

      Fortunately, Virginia isn’t living in my home but is still in her apartment. Her fear was to be put in a nursing home, so I’ve avoided that so far. We knew years ago that living in the same house would be certain disaster. (A hat tip and hug to your friend.) As you know, Virginia and I get along now because she became too weak and forgetful to be angry at me and I let go of my resentment. Life shapes and softens us. It isn’t always a joyful process.

      1. September 6, 2017 at 2:23 pm

        Marian Beaman



  21. September 5, 2017 at 9:12 pm

    Mary Friedel-Hunt


    Oh, Elaine, your words resonated at a deep level as I think about taking care of Bill in his many hear decline to his death. There were days when I did not know how I would go on. In hi d sight I know I did not have nearly enough help and I know there were were times when I fled out of sheer exhaustion by disappearing emotionally or even dissociating. Just before I started this caregiving I participated in taking care of my mom, though was not her main person. Shortly after Bill died, our Bentley was Dx with lymphoma, a two year journey to his death. I know it was a dog but frankly after Bill he was a gigan tic loss. I so agree….i can not a d could. It SAVE anyone…but I know in my caregiving, I forgot to take care of me. Please take care of you….i am so glad you just left the room. You truly had to save you in that moment. Thinking of you. Love Mary

    1. September 6, 2017 at 10:39 am

      Elaine Mansfield


      Thank you, Mary. It’s hard to admit when we just can’t do anymore. I took time off this week from visiting, shopping, problem solving, and reassuring. I’ll see Virginia again on Friday. Her aide and I are in touch every day so I know nothing is happening that the crew can’t handle. We’re lucky Virginia saved money and can afford all this help. Her money will run out in around 6 months, so I’ll see what happens then. With Medicaid, I may not be able to keep her in her own apartment anymore with aides she knows and a few kind women who sit with her every day. I’m grateful for the 24 hour caregivers, especially the main caregiver who schedules the other 5. Loss of our soul animals can be almost as heartbreaking as a human being. I hate to think of how I’ll be without sweet Willow, but I know by now that I’ll find a way. We do. You have. Sending love back to you.

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